Safety is an essential component of summer fun, which is why we wear bike helmets and reapply sunscreen. But keeping food safe when eating outdoors is a preventive measure that is often overlooked: The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that 1 in 6 Americans is sickened by foodborne pathogens each year, with summer being peak season for the problem. It’s a double-whammy of risk: Bacteria thrive in the warmer weather, and it’s challenging to follow good food-safety habits when you are out and about. Fortunately, there are some new products on the market to help you stay safe this summer, and do it stylishly, too.
Keeping perishable food chilled is a must any time of year, but it is especially critical in the summer because bacteria grow fastest just when you most want to head out to the beach or pool — at temperatures between 90 and 110 degrees Fahrenheit. When the weather is that steamy, food should not be left out for more than an hour; on cooler days, two hours is the limit. If you are driving, you can (and should) pack a cooler with plenty of ice or ice packs, but you clearly can’t haul that around if you are biking, hiking or walking. That’s when a smaller insulated bag — something you can tuck into a backpack or beach bag — comes in handy. Of the many options available, PackIt products are especially cool — double entendre intended — because the bags have a freezable gel built into their walls. Pop a bag in the freezer the night before — it folds flat so it doesn’t take up too much space — and it’ll be ready to go the next morning. The company makes bags in many different shapes and sizes, but the new Snack Box is the perfect size to hold an afternoon’s fuel for one and comes in fun, fashionable patterns.
All too often, food put out for a backyard party is left in the heat for hours — think about arriving on the later side to a summer shindig to face a sunbaked macaroni salad with a suspicious-looking crust. If you are hosting, you may hesitate to bring the food inside to be refrigerated when your company keeps coming back for more, but you don’t want them to get sick, either. One strategy is to stagger the dishes you put out. Another tactic is to use serving dishes with built-in chilling systems. These bowls not only keep food safely edible longer, they keep it tasting and looking fresher, too. You can get the type that have a separate compartment for ice, such as the set made by Prodyne, or vessels that have a built-in freezer gel to freeze before using, such as the elegant metallic bowls from Frontgate. Either makes a lovely gift for a party host, as well, and might just spare you future macaroni salad mishaps.
Nothing good happens when juices from raw meat, poultry and fish come in contact with already cooked foods or uncooked ingredients such as vegetables for salads. It’s called cross contamination, and it’s a common cause of foodborne illness. One no-brainer way to prevent it when grilling is to have two color-coded sets of equipment — dishes, tongs and spatulas — one for raw meats, and one for cooked items. You can simply put some red and black tape on equipment you already own or buy two of each item in different colors. You also need separate platers for raw and cooked food. Williams Sonoma has an attractive set of lightweight but sturdy trays that nestle together so you won’t forget to bring them both out. The trays are also grooved, so juices won’t easily spill over.
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When cooking and eating outdoors, where it can be difficult to wash your hands with soap and water, hand sanitizer is a must. (Don’t make the mistake of thinking your hands are clean after you’ve been swimming. Pools, ponds, lakes, streams and oceans all harbor plenty of bacteria that you don’t want anywhere near your food.) At home in your yard, it’s a good idea to keep large pump bottles of hand sanitizer by the food prep area and on the picnic/dining table so they are in easy reach and act as a visible reminder. When on the go, pack mini-bottles of hand sanitizer in your beach bag or backpack. (Be sure to get a brand with a minimum of 60 percent alcohol for maximum effectiveness.)
If the industrial look, sticky feel and medicinal odor of the typical hand sanitizer is as much of a turnoff for you as it is for me, there are products that will do the job in more appealing ways. One idea for backyards that looks a lot nicer and is ultimately more economical than the unsightly plastic pump bottle is to buy a couple of decorative soap dispensers and refill them with family-sized bottles of sanitizer.
Then there is the hand sanitizer upgrade option. I personally like EO Botanical hand sanitizer in French lavender, which has the requisite percentage of alcohol to kill germs along with a lovely aroma and leaves your hands feeling soft rather than sticky. The bottle also looks nice. It costs more, but it’s one of those small luxuries I find worthwhile. It also comes in travel-size containers. To inspire kids to keep their hands clean, treat them to a hand sanitizer that comes in a cute, themed package, such as the adorable Bac-Pac Buddies.
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